Student Feature: Ify and OliveAnkara - Sewing cultures together.
"It is threads - hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years." - Simone Signoret
Bringing African culture to Singapore's shores is what drives Ify to take her brainchild, OliveAnkara, to greater heights. The fun and colourful personality of the founder truly reflects on her brand! If you have always dreamed of starting your own fashion label, read on to be inspired or check out the video interview below!
Introduce yourself and your brand, OliveAnkara!
Hello everyone, my name is Ify! I'm the founder and designer of OliveAnkara. I was born in Italy from Nigerian parents. They moved to Italy in the early 80s. I've been living in Italy for all my life and I've been raised with both cultures - Italian culture and Nigerian culture.
I moved to Singapore 8 years ago to pursue my cancer research studies. So I had the opportunity to do my Post Doc. at the National Cancer Center as a scientist on Molecular Carcinogenesis. 4 years ago, I launched the brand - OliveAnkara, because I had this feeling that although Singapore has a lot of people from different cultures, I find that the African culture was lacking.
Visit OliveAnkara's website here.
So in 2017, I launched the brand! OliveAnkara is a slow fashion brand. We have this mission to bring joy, happiness and to inspire women to be the boldest version of themselves. We're doing basically womenswear clothing with African fabrics.
What are the roots of OliveAnkara and what makes it stand out from other fashion brands?
So OliveAnkara is a slow fashion brand - we bring the richness and diversity! And we are basically an African-inspired brand. We use African wax-painted fabric (but not only!). That's what makes us different from all the brands here in Singapore.
We use Ankara fabric - it comes from West African culture but recently we have also released a new collection where you can see the fusion between the different cultures. For example, in this collection you will see the Japanese elements fused with African elements.
OliveAnkara beautifully embraces other cultures as well - from the Japanese Kimono silhouettes to Seigaiha inspired patterns!
I believe that people here in Singapore are really looking for - first of all, more colours that will brighten up their days but also a meaning behind what they're wearing. So for example, the fabrics have their own story and meaning. I really like the idea of making fusion between cultures and then being able to elevate both of them!
Was being a fashion designer always your bread and butter?
Being a designer was not what I was thinking that I would be. It just basically happened! I moved to Singapore 8 years ago to do my Post Doc. in Molecular Carcinogenesis at the National Cancer Centre (NCCS).
And then, when I moved 8 years ago, I realised that while Singapore is the best representation of the word "melting pot" - you can find people from different cultures, all living in Singapore, different religions [too], but I realised that African fashion and African culture was not well represented. So I decided to start with OliveAnkara for fun! Also because I really wanted people to know about my culture.
Some of the designs from the Ajo Aye Collection - each design will usually only be limited to 6 pieces or less! Photos: OliveAnkara.
Were there any challenges you faced when starting OliveAnkara?
So there are always many challenges mainly when you want to start something from scratch and when you're transitioning from one career to another. At the beginning when I started with OliveAnkara, I was working as a scientist in the lab. Basically by day I was a scientist and then by night I was a designer!
So at one point I realised that OliveAnkara was growing and growing and needed more time and more effort from me. So I decided to take a leap of faith and moved into the brand and being full time in OliveAnkara. That was the first challenge!
The second challenge I would say: I had to leave something that I knew I love - science. Then, to put myself into something completely new where I didn't have that much background.
The first challenge is always like the start - starting something. You know you have ideas but then you have to put them into practice. That I think is for any type of job or business - but I also like to be challenged! So I think that challenges are what keep me moving further.
Which classes did you take with Fashion Makerspace and how has it helped shape you and OliveAnkara?
So I think I always knew how to sew because my mom and my grandmother used to sew at home. They used to sew clothes for my sister and I when we were little. I remember that when I was growing, I was always asking my mom to change some parts of the design. And then she told me, "Now I will teach you so you can do your own designs!"
But then before starting with OliveAnkara, I really wanted to know whether I was really able to sew. So I took a few classes at Fashion Makerspace! I did a Beginner Introductory Class [Starter Bundle], then I did Sewing & Patternmaking (Basic) and a few more other classes after because I really liked the space and the teachers - it was really interesting!
Ify still keeps her notes from the Basic Sewing & Patternmaking Class!
I realised that this helped me a lot because by knowing how things are done here in Singapore, like paper patterns - I knew how to do them but I knew from how my mom taught me. So I didn't know whether it was really okay. These class(es) helped me to understand that I knew how to sew and how to do the new paper patterns for my seamstress here in Singapore.
Your most memorable experience when learning how to sew is...
I have so many memories from the classes that I took at Fashion Makerspace! One of them was when going out from the house, with the rulers and paper patterns and going to the lab. Everyone would ask, "Why do you have rulers in your bag?" So that was really funny!
But the biggest memory and amazing memory was when I basically saw my piece finished! You know, you feel like a kid at Christmas and then you open [your gift] and then you see, "Oh my God!"
Ify with her completed top from the Basic Sewing & Patternmaking class!
And this is my top - the top that I first did at Fashion Makerspace! Not the first one I did in my life but from the class it was this one. I also had a skirt but unfortunately I don't fit it anymore [Laughs]. I was super happy because I was able to use my own prints to do this.
Share one advice for budding fashion designers, that also helped you with OliveAnkara.
So the biggest advice that I would give to someone that wants to start something from scratch is to DO IT. If you have a passion for it, just do it! It's going to be successful.
I started OliveAnkara because I didn't want to have regrets one day. I say to myself, "Okay, you tried, you've been brave, it didn't work, but it's gonna be anyway a success because you just tried to do it!"
Of course you have to study a lot. There are so many people here in Singapore that can help you out and they're there to listen. There's a big community of entrepreneurs so don't be afraid - just put yourself out there and just DO IT!
Starting your own fashion brand may not be all fun and games, but it definitely gives you a sense of fulfilment, and to call something truly your own.
If you're looking to finally taking that first step, head to our beginner-friendly classes in the link below! We'll see you soon!
For further enquiries, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or whatsapp us at 8139 7787.
Tribal Joy by Alexander Nakarada | https://www.serpentsoundstudios.com
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